A column appeared in the Chronicle this past week. Unfortunately, it is too old for me to link to it easily. Even addressing it threatens to get my progressive card revoked. Anyone that knows me knows I occasionally have to take on the establishment within our own political group. I’ll try to be as evenhanded as possible in this endeavor.
The article concerned a law suit on behalf of students in Bryan ISD that had been wrongly ticketed. Furthermore, the NAACP (the group levying the suit) asserts that minority students are being unfairly targeted because they have been ticketed nearly twice as often as Anglo students. Therefore, security officers in those schools must be biased against minority students.
The author of the piece has a problem with basic logic. On the one hand, they argue that issuing tickets to students for classroom disruption is wrong-headed. As an educator I might be inclined to agree without knowing the circumstances. After nearly 15 years in the classroom, I know that sending out students for classroom disruption is often ineffective. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
The author of this piece essentially used what I would call a “straw man” fallacy to address that particular issue. In other words, we have no way of knowing why Bryan ISD decided to move to issuing tickets. It could be that they discovered that issuing detention, in school suspension, suspension, or alternative placement was ineffective in dealing with classroom disruption. Perhaps, they found more success when students and their parents actually had to shell out cold hard cash when they misbehaved in the classroom.
Those of us in the education business can certainly poke holes in any particular discipline management plan. Personally, I found that when students were engaged in the learning process they were not misbehaving. However, that’s easier said than done. Even the best teachers often have a few students that are difficult to engage in any circumstance. Those usually are the students that chronically misbehave in the classroom.
My beef with the editorial writer is not with her assertion that issuing tickets is wrongheaded. I happen to agree with that stance in general. My beef with her is the assertion that Bryan ISD is inherently racist or bigoted because of the numbers of students in any particular group that get the ticket. It’s something that’s always bothered me because it is a dangerous assumption from those on the left. I call it the “if…then” fallacy. In this case, if there are more minority students getting in trouble then those issuing the discipline must be prejudiced.
That might be true, but it is not a fact based purely on the evidence alone. Perhaps, and I’m just spitballing here, perhaps a higher percentage of those students are actually causing problems. I know that is hard to say and hard to admit because it puts me on dangerous footing. After all, I must be racist to suggest such a thing.
I will simply rely on the vast experience I have as an educator. Personally, I would never assert that one race is inherently better behaved than another based on their race. That’s racist and stupid. What I would assert is that it is often built on differences in socioeconomic factors that cut across racial boundaries. For instance, students that may come from economically disadvantaged homes and/or homes with a single parent may be more apt to have behavioral problems. Again, this is not a catch all, but simply something I’ve noticed.
The problem with such law suits is that is based on an assumption of bias because the data appears to be biased. Assuming all children of all types should be punished equally does not account for natural differences between various groups. It leads those of us in the classroom to allow certain behavior to slide because we don’t want to be considered biased. If it is our job to help students grow into functioning adults then it is also our job to help them understand that there are some common behaviors that are acceptable and some that are unacceptable.
As much as I would like to allow everyone to behave as they see fit, I cannot allow that to happen and be effective as a teacher. Often times, when we see disparate data like the NAACP saw in Bryan ISD it means there are some biased practices going on. Yet, it is also often a reflection of what is actually going on. Disparate data may indicate that someone is doing something wrong, but it also might indicate what is actually going on. We all know where assuming gets us.